SUNDERLAND supersub Ji Dong-Won blew the title race wide open with a dramatic late winner.
The South Korea international climbed off the bench to launch 2012 in style by stunning Manchester City with a goal in the fourth minute of injury-time.
Defeat leaves City level at the summit with neighbours Manchester United — but Roberto Mancini will know how damaging the result could be to his stuttering troops as they chase Premier League glory. A day after champions United slipped up at home to Blackburn, Mancini's side were unable to take advantage despite creating a host of chances.
Black Cats keeper Simon Mignolet kept out substitute Sergio Aguero's 59th-minute shot and striker Edin Dzeko saw a series of opportunities go begging on another frustrating afternoon for the leaders.
Mancini, perhaps with one eye on Tuesday's home clash with Liverpool, had started with Aguero and David Silva on the bench, while Mario Balotelli did not even make the 18.
He was forced to bring on Aguero and Silva but, had either Nicklas Bendtner or Stephane Sessegnon taken their chances, Sunderland might have been home and dry before Ji's intervention.
Black Cats boss Martin O'Neill went into the game without a specialist full-back as injuries tore his defensive resources apart.
And the situation was to get worse long before the half-time whistle sounded.
Having already had to press midfielders Craig Gardner and Jack Colback into service at right-back and left-back respectively, he also had to draft in Mignolet for the first time since he fractured his nose and a eye-socket on October 29.
O'Neill was then forced into a further change with just 26 minutes gone when centre-back Wes Brown pulled up and was replaced by Matt Kilgallon.
Under the circumstances, O'Neill could hardly have been more pleased with the way his distinctly makeshift defence battled its way to the break without conceding.
Had lone frontman Bendtner shown a little more composure, his side might have headed for the dressing room holding a lead.
Sunderland broke at pace from a third-minute defensive corner and Sessegnon slid the perfect pass into the Dane's path to put him in on goal.
Bendtner took the ball wide of keeper Joe Hart but the England international was still able to make an important block.
Hart had to make a smart save from James McClean's effort two minutes later, yet it was a City side featuring six changes from the 0-0 draw at West Brom which began to dominate.
But it was not until the half-hour mark had passed that they really made their presence felt.
Mignolet made a point-blank 32nd-minute block to deny Dzeko before Gardner cleared Samir Nasri's effort off the line seconds later.
Dzeko rattled the crossbar with a powerful drive 10 minutes before the break and then prompted a comfortable save from Mignolet from distance with two minutes of the half remaining.
But it was the home side who went close in injury-time when Gardner blasted just high and wide as the Black Cats surged forward.
Mancini had seen enough and replaced defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong with Aguero at the break, although it was McClean who nearly broke the deadlock when his 47th-minute cross flew just over.
Yaya Toure scuffed a volley wide seconds later after Mignolet had kicked Aleksandar Kolarov's cross clear, while Pablo Zabaleta also failed to hit the target after being played into space by captain Vincent Kompany.
Mancini responded by sending on Silva for Nasri and the visitors squandered another promising opening within seconds when Dzeko skied a shot from Adam Johnson's cross.
City might have taken the lead in controversial circumstances with 59 minutes on the clock when referee Kevin Friend allowed play to continue after Sessegnon went to ground under Kolarov's challenge.
Silva fed the ball to Dzeko, who dropped it off for Aguero to fire in a close-range effort which Mignolet managed to block.
But it was Sunderland who should have been in front after 64 minutes when Sessegnon cut inside from the right and found himself with just Hart to beat.
The Benin international pushed his shot agonisingly wide of the far post with the outside of his right foot.
Richards went desperately close to a winner with a minute of normal time remaining, heading the ball into the ground and off the bar after Mignolet had parried Silva's shot.
However, the drama was not over and when Sessegnon stabbed the ball into Ji's path, he calmly rounded Hart to snatch three precious points.
STAR MAN - CRAIG GARDNER (SUNDERLAND)
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet 7, Gardner 9, O'Shea 7, Brown 5 (Kilgallon 8), Colback 7, McClean 7, Cattermole 8, Vaughan 6 (Elmohamady 6), Larsson 6, Bendtner 4 (Ji 7), Sessegnon 7. Subs not used: Carson, Meyler, Noble, Laing. Booked: Larsson.
MAN CITY: Hart 6, Zabaleta 7, Lescott 6, Kompany 7, Kolarov 6 (Richards 6), Johnson 7, De Jong 6 (Aguero 5), Y Toure 6, Barry 6, Nasri 5 (Silva 6), Dzeko 6. Subs not used: Pantilimon, Clichy, Savic, Milner. Booked: De Jong.
REF: K Friend 6
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